The anchor is Jemele Hill, who dropped this on Twitter a few days ago apparently believing that her ostentatiously woke corporate supervisors would approve of the sentiment. Which, ESPN being what it is, was a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
Donald Trump is a bigot. Glad you could live with voting for him. I couldn’t, because I cared about more than just myself
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 12, 2017
The network probably does approve internally but taking that big of a rhetorical dump on a president beloved by roughly half the audience is bad for business. So last night ESPN issued an anodyne statement noting that Hill’s comments were “inappropriate,” right around the time the GOP Congress was passing a resolution urging Trump to, er, do more to denounce white supremacy. Today Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Hill’s tweets and called them a “fireable offense,” which made some Trump critics unhappy:
This is absurd. Rebut bad speech with better speech. “Fire my ideological opponents” is a bad look for everybody (including you Google.) https://t.co/2DTLxadnyu
— David French (@DavidAFrench) September 13, 2017
Oh look, government official wants to punish a person for political speech. Remember when everyone thought that wasn’t very American? https://t.co/ItKJ9aoFJv
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) September 13, 2017
Fair point, especially so soon after the James Damore uproar at Google. If you want corporate employees to feel free to express their political beliefs without fear of reprisal, nudging ESPN to can Hill is stupid. Media criticism comes so easily to the Trump White House, though, that I’ll bet Sanders didn’t think twice. (I’d also bet Trump loved what she said and fully agrees.) Ask POTUS himself to name some people in cable news whom he thinks should be fired and he’d probably give you 10 names off the top of his head — at CNN alone. This is a White House led by someone who pronounced the “fake news media” nothing less than enemies of the American people and Hill’s comment about white supremacy is, per Sanders, fake news. Naturally she wants a professional execution as punishment.
One counterpoint, though: ESPN already has rules that treat thoughtcrimes as “fireable offenses.” Intentionally or not, Sanders isn’t asking them to change their policy to get rid of political bombthrowers so much as she’s asking them to apply it more evenhandedly. Curt Schilling, who was sent packing by ESPN for posting a meme about transgenders to his Facebook page, put it this way:
anyone asking. She didn’t get fired ‘cauee disney and ESPN are fine w/liberal racism vs conservative logic. Only naysayers to that are liars
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) September 13, 2017
I doubt Sanders had Schilling in mind in nudging ESPN to fire Hill but right-wingers with long memories who were already suspicious of ESPN’s politics will remember. Ninety-five percent of the base will support her on this as a simple application of Alinsky Rule Four: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” In a way this incident encapsulates a core divide on the right over Trump: Never Trumpers dislike him because they believe Republicans should hold themselves to a higher standard, Trumpers love him because they think that sort of moral preening is what suckers tell themselves to explain away their unwillingness to fight for their cause aggressively. Make the left play by its own rules. If 50 conservatives are going to get fired or frozen out of jobs for which they’re otherwise qualified purely because they’re conservative, the answer isn’t to sit there and fret impotently that that’s wrong. The answer is to take a liberal scalp when one presents itself. And if it’s the White House, the repository of federal executive power, that’s encouraging that scalp-taking, so much the better insofar as it sends a clear message. I’m with the group that would rather not mainstream this ethic even as an act of revenge but I’m under no illusions about which side is in the minority.
Exit question: Why is everyone freaking out over this instead of Sanders arguing elsewhere during today’s briefing that James Comey committed a crime in drafting his memos about Trump? The White House leaning on the DOJ to prosecute someone, especially someone whose alleged crime was politically charged, is a major affront to the Justice Department’s independence. If you want to be mad at Sanders for something, that’s much stronger grounds.